Airbus's restructuring, with the loss of 10,000 jobs, aims to ensure the manufacturer's future health. However, politics may yet intervene

As the 28 February job loss shockwave sweeps through Airbus plants, the world's aerospace community continues to look on in horror at the acute political trials and tribulations being faced by Airbus chief Louis Gallois.

It would be highly naive to think that the wrangling over an equitable share of the pain throughout Airbus states was by any means over and, if 28 February was a significant date in the 21st century chronicles of the European airframer, May 6 looms even larger as an historic event in Airbus's evolution.

The French presidential election race is gaining momentum, with chronic unemployment a chief concern for French citizens. French prime minister Dominique de Villepin defended last week's decision to shed 10,000 jobs at Airbus - including 4,300 in France. And this from a man who won the 2005 premiership on a wave of economic patriotism, defending national interests and jobs through negotiating an imperfect path between command economics and a free market.

Gallois is however a shrewd political animal. As both an énarque hailing from the French administrative elite of the Ecole Nationale D'Administration and a doyen of national industries, he has made no cast-iron guarantees over future compulsory redundancies should the company's fortunes deteriorate further.

Why? Because the former SNCF chief - who dabbled in the dark arts of left-wing radicalism in his youth - knows that just as the French invented the language of diplomacy, France remains a society whose populist notion of mobilisation, allied to a robust sense of trigger-happy social outrage, could still so easily derail Airbus's recovery.

His threat over more potential storm clouds brewing is his political stop-gap, allowing him a sufficiently long interval in which to bed-in the Power8 restructuring. It also allows him to warn off excessive short-term political meddling which, while popular at the ballot box, proves lethal on the balance sheet.

Power8 should allow Airbus to engage once more with the pure dynamics of a capitalist world, in which it competes in a fierce competitive market and where the smallest mis-step can have huge business ramifications. If that core proposition is threatened, thousands more livelihoods will be similarly compromised.

Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, known for her admiration of some of Tony Blair's Anglo-Saxon economic principles, is pledging a moratorium on the Airbus job cuts if elected, while conservative front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy says the state should stop interfering in Airbus, hinting at a future attempt to permanently alter EADS' shareholder structure.

The question remains: how long will Airbus remain at the mercy of political pressures? If Gallois should lose the goodwill of politicians and fail to communicate that, together with a sense of duty to respective national interests, there is an overriding case for short-term pain in an effort to achieve a sustainable industrial strategy for Airbus, the game is up.

Source: Flight International